Thursday, 9 November 2017

Otterly brilliant

The Safari hasn't been out as much as hoped this week. Yesterday we had to say goodbye to our large Elm tree. There wasn't anything inherently wrong with it it had just become too big for the small space it was in and had begun to send up suckers all over the garden which could easily become a digging out problem in a couple of years time and could pop up in neighbours' gardens too. Sadly it means that there will be no chance of the local White Letter Hairstreak setting up a satellite colony at Base Camp as was the original hope when we planted it. Perhaps now the small subservient Rowan will be able to grow and maybe one day attract a Waxwing or two if the Blackbirds leave any berries for them.
Many thanks to CP and his skill with the Stihl
Today we took Monty down to Marton Mere for a quick spin in the sunshine, once the early morning rain had cleared. First stop was the (to our mind) somewhat over-zealously cleared Feeding Station. There was little about apart from a couple of Pheasants and a Grey Squirrel, no sign of yesterday's reported Bullfinch.
 From there we could hear the volunteers' strimmers not too far away. We thought they were continuing to work at the little bay view point they made last week that we're not fond of, we think the time and effort could have been spent better elsewhere on the reserve. When we got there we saw we were wrong, they weren't there but further down at the first hide. We had a quick chat but it was too noisy for Monty's sensitive doggy ears. They did tell us that there were two Otters over against the far reeds. We looked and looked and saw 200 or more Coot panic but didn't see any Otters.
We left the vols to their tasks and walked down to the next hide where we didn't go in but snuck round the front and flattened the area of reeds to the left to open up the view for the winter, our first bit of volunteering here, we're sure there'll be more!
We also had a look at the new reed island from this's massssiiiivvveee!!!!! And the ducks seem to like to loaf in its lee so perhaps it's not all bad...still going to be a nightmare though.

Once again we were time does that happen when your retired?? so we had to head back. This time the strimmering team were having a tea-break and all was quiet enough to join them again. This time we were told the Otters were having a swim round again. Wow, we got superb prolonged views of them with the bins, if a little distant, on the far side of the mere. Excellent!!! Awesome!!! Other expletives are available. Just a little to distant for our 300mm lens we brought out today - typical; and we're not entirely sure why we opted to leave the 600mm back at Base Camp - won't make that mistake again in a hurry!
Well chuffed but later found out there were two Bitterns flying round together in the afternoon, long after we'd had to leave though.
Almost back at the car we spotted a few flowers of Meadow Cranesbill enjoying the last of the year's sunshine.
In the afternoon we joined our local Wildlife Trust's Living Seas team for a Sea Watch at Rossall tower. A chilly and blustery afternoon but the event was well attended. We got a count of 50 Eiders roosting on the new shingle island, there were a lot of Oystercatchers and Turnstones roosting over there too.
It took a while for the only Grey Seal to put in an appearance and we missed it. While searching the waves and troughs for it we spotted half a dozen Little Gulls, five adults and a first winter, flying west out of the bay. A nice find even though we say so ourself.
Not much else was out there for the others to enjoy, a few more Eiders and a few Common Scoters on the sea and a small flock of Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and a Sanderling on the beach.
Where to next? More gardening at Base Camp tomorrow but we'll keep our ears open for anything passing overhead.
In the meantime let us know who's gracing the waters in your outback.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Twitching the dowtwichers

The Safari had a pretty good week out n about this week. We had a couple of morning visits to Marton Mere where we had a few Redwings and a lot of Blackbirds feeding on the Hawthorn berries along the wetland hedge.
Lawson's wetland looking south east
At the Viewing Platform many of the 300 plus Coot suddenly scarpered across the water for cover, we hoped the Otter or Bittern or perhaps a Marsh/Hen Harrier would come in to view but no such luck, it was a cat that had frightened them, not a fluffy one but a giant helium filled one - don't forget folks balloons blow so don't let go! Well all balloon releases are is glorified large scale littering; we can't believe they've not been banned yet and if nonsense like this waste of natural resourses weren't filled with helium they wouldn't float off in to the ether to land who knows where and cause who knows what problems.
The giant flying cat flushed about 100 Wigeon off the water too which flew around whistling their most un-duck-like call until the 'danger' was out of sight.
We wanted to see the new 'island' we'd been told of. The little island we reported in a recent post has been usurped by something much much more substantial - looks to be over 100 tons of management nightmare! How on earth do you clear that out of the middle of the mere and if you do where do you ump it without the enormous expense of removing it off site?
Frustratingly there were far too many loose dogs to see much wildlife - it's not as it there isn't a 3 mile walk and six acre field nearby they can be excercised in, absolutely no need to bring an unleashed dog in to the nature reserve just to pall ball - so annoying! Having said that we did here a Bullfinch calling from the densest part of the scrub and we stood watched, listened and waited to see if it would show but it didn't. We later were chatting to regular visitor TS who'd had great views about half an hour later not far from where we'd heard the calls.
With no birds to point the lens at it was vegetation that caught our eye.
Dog Rose hips
The Feeding Station has had a bit of a make over, a bit on the excessive side to our mind, and there were very few birds about other than the usual couldn't care less Pheasants, a few wary Chaffinches and Great Tits and no fewer than four Grey Squirrels. Not sure what the rationale is behind the clearance of the cover around the feeders and beyond but we forgot to ask the vols when we met up with them later on.
After the frustrations, including lack of Hawfinches, of Marton Mere we teamed up with CR again for another safari south of the river. 
Our first stop was at Marshside RSPB where the Cattle Egrets were doing what Cattle Egrets do best but doing it well away across the marsh. We counted four although five have been seen in recent days. The west Lancashire coast is getting more like the Carmargue everyday...there'll be nesting Greater Flamingos before too long.......
A quick look at the marsh from the two screens and hide gave us countless Black Tailed Godwits, a good selection of waterfowl but no obvious sign of our day's quarry, the Long Billed Dowitchers, not that we'd be able to pick them out among the godwits with no scope today. For some reason neither of us had ever stopped at the viewing platform at the far south of the reserve so off we went there to view the pool that a Scaup had been frequenting, it wasn't with the few Tufted Ducks that were present and we totally overlooked the distant and very late in the season Garganey. But at least the light was good and we had great views of the common species on offer, Pied Wagtail, Wren, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Shelduck, Black Tailed Godwit, Redshank, Lapwing, Canada, Grey Lag and Pink Footed Geese; the Cetti's Warbler and Water Rail we'd been told about in the reeds to our left didn't make themselves known to us.
Canada Goose
After while we decided to go back to the hide but stopped to ask what the couple of lads with scopes were looking at close to the road junction. They were looking for the Long Billed Dowitchers which had just been reported on their pagers as seen from the hide and they were trying to find them from there in better light.
We arrived at the hide and were told where to look and kindly given scope views, without which we'd probably never have found the sleeping 'beauty'.
Can you see it?
Occasionally it would shuffle around a bit but barely moved at all. Eventually a bit of a kerfuffle in the ranks of the Black Tailed Godwits had it rouse itself and take a look at what was going on.
You can see it now - right? Did you find it in the previous pic?
It's the first Long Billed Dowitcher (186, YBC #162) we've seen since the mid 90s so it was good to make acquaintance with one again even if it did look like this for most of the morning.
You know where it is now but would you have found it - don't think we would!
Certainly a bonus bird for our Year Bird Challenge, not even close to being on the radar earlier in the year.
With that success and 'thank yous' said we set off to the reserve we do not mention by name for the rest of the afternoon. A quick look in their 'new' Discovery hide showed the light to be tricky, this Whooper Swan out of a fine selection of waterfowl was the best we could muster with the camera.
Whooper Swan
But leaving the hide which way to go, left or right? Right was tempting with the afternoon sun behind us so we went left ignoring the hide without opening windows but with a heater - didn't need that today it was very mild - and went straight to the next little hide with the Kingfisher perch, it was very quiet there so we didn't stop long but continued to the Kingfisher Hide where we never see Kingfishers and we about turned when a birder coming down the steps told us a Kingfisher had been showing from the next hide not fiver minutes earlier.
Luckily it was still there.
We had the most prolonged views of a Kingfisher we've had in a very long time, perhaps ever and watched it catch a small fish and then a right dobber which we think is a Perch. Doubt if we've ever seen a Kingfisher with a fish that large impressive catch indeed!
There was a supporting cast of hundreds of Teal and Wigeon and an obliging pair of Kestrels and an unobliging duo of Marsh Harriers.
The Kingfisher decided it was time to move on and digest its ginormous meal somewhere comfy so we went back to the far side and stopped at one of the screens where the old hide used to be - they still give better light than the new all singing all dancing family friendly hide.
And even closer
As the afternoon's Whooper Swan feed for the punters draws near the waterfowl start to gather where the wheelbarrow of grain will appear. It's quite a spectacle! Unfortunately we had to leave before the melee started.
He'll be out in a minute - how many species can you find?
A great few days out on safari...but still no Hawfinch for us!
Where to next? Not sure where we'll get to next week but Marton Mere is probably a given.
In the meantime let us know who's bitten off almost more than they can chew in your outback.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Stealth rotovating by Hawfinches?

The Safari was able to get out on a couple of longer trips last week. The first was northwards up to Leighton Moss with CR. We arrived on site about half past 9 and went straight to the causeway that runs across the centre of the reserve. There were already a few people waiting at the grit trays where the Bearded Tits come to get grit for their gizzards as they change their summer diet of soft and squidgy insects to the harder and needing grinding up seeds of the Common Reeds they live among. Word on the street was that none had been seen so far that morning, which didn't surprise us as we normally get there far too early and spend ages standing around freezing our ******s off waiting for them appear. Fortunately it wasn't cold today and they did tease us by calling repeatedly both in front and behind us, at least we knew they were awake already!
A movement in the reeds had us all jumping to scopes, bins and cameras but it was 'just' a Robin playing at being a Bearded Tit.
It was ringed and we wondered if it is the same individual we photod several years ago in the same place.
A few yards down the track and in the Willow scrub at the edge a Cetti's Warbler sand loudly as a small party of incoming birders were passing and they were lucky enough to get good views of it, something we've never managed here. Eventually the 'pinging' from the Bearded Tits began to become more frequent and our ears could tell that the group in the reeds in front of us were on the move and heading our way. All eyes were on the trays until a hint of movement was seen on the edge of the reeds a little further back. A female was briefly in view, we wouldn't have long to wait now!
 Minutes later the main event happened.
Aren't they great, but horrendously misnamed, they should be called Moustached Reedlings as patently that's not a beard and they aren't really even closely related to the tit family being more aligned to the babblers. Whatever they are called or should bee called makes no odds, they're simply just stunners
Especially when they come a little bit closer
After filling our boots with  Bearded Tits (YBC #159) we decided to move down to the coastal marshes. Along the rough track to the car park there were two Stonechats hopping about on the tops of the reeds on the other side of the wall, not a bad start to this part of the day!
Looking through the window of the first hide just about the first bird we saw was a Great White Egret (185, YBC #160) but it soon strutted over the embankment and into the ditch on the other side where it was out of sight.
The pool was fairly quiet with just a few Redshank, Teal and Wigeon to be seen. In the distance on the grazing marsh a small number of Curlews wandered about occasionally making their mournful call.
A Little Egret came in to view on our left stalking sticklebacks and/or shrimps in the shallows very close to the bank. It would often stir up the mud with its feet to flush out anything that might be hiding. Eventually it passed in front of us.
And shortly afterwards went back whence it came
We moved on to the second hide and were a little surprised to see the Great White Egret come back from the direction we'd just come from, it must have walked all the way along the dyke right in front of our noses but hidden by the embankment.
It landed in the closest corner of the pool and started to fish giving us superb views
C spotted two birds incoming...a couple of Goosanders (YBC #161).
They had a bit of a swim round on the far side of the small island often putting their heads underwater to look for fish
Coming round to the front of the island one of them had success
But the large lunch was too slippery to wrangle and after a few tries to neck it down the Goosander lost its grip and the fish escaped...but not for long. A lurking Lesser Black Back Gull had been watching the action with interest and swooped in and caught the fish in the shallows and brought it on to the island where it could be handled more easily and stood far less chance of another escape.
And with some serious wriggling it did manage a partial escape
A gull with a fish is a persistent beast and eventually the inevitable happened
Yes it went down whole and sideways!
Our interest was now back on the Great White Egret which had been joined by a pair of squabbling Little Egrets. They were battling back and forth all across the pool but unfortunately we didn't manage to get a pic. In between rounds of fighting they had a little fish and at one point where with the Great White Egret in a scene reminiscent of the Carmargue - apart from the dull grey skies!
An unimaginable birding scene in north Lancashire when we were a nipper - who'd have thunk it!
With a no-show from the Kingfisher and not a lot on the other pool apart from a lot of Lapwings it was time to head back to the main reserve. Water levels in the pools - and along the track - were very high after the recent rains so there wasn't as much activity as we'd hoped, certainly wading birds were in short supply. But a brief view of a Marsh Harrier kept us entertained. Shame it was a bit distant quartering the reeds on the far side of the pool.
The second hide was even quieter with no Red Deer or Purple Herons (what did we say about the Carmargue!) on view. Best was a snoozing Little Grebe. It was good to see grit trays provided for the Bearded Tits at a couple of locations down this end of the reserve, wonder why they hadn't thought of that before - well neither had we and we've been visiting since the early 70s.
From there we went back to the causeway to find that the Bearded Tits hadn't been at the grit trays for some time, the main lake was desperately quiet, the only highlight being a group of Whooper Swans coming overhead.
With the path to the furthest hide being out of bounds due to the high water levels and only being shod in trainers it was back to the feeding station. The gloomy conditions under the trees had us shooting on ISO Ludicrous but there were a few subjects around. The Marsh Tit put in a single brief appearance early on and we missed the Nuthatch every time it was perched on 'natural habitat' rather than the feeder at which it didn't stay long - grab n go!
A last minute decision to climb to the top of the skytower was made before we left after earwigging a conversation about the Red Deer that could be seen from there. Worth the steps up too - there was a small group of hinds attended by a stag lying out in a dry clearing in the reeds well away across the pool - just about photographable and annoyingly 'hiding' behind the only twig for miles!
Our second safari had us meeting up with our Southside chums for a day's birding and fun at the other big localish wetland reserve, the 'other place we do not mention by name'.
If the weather during our trip to Leighton Moss was dull this time it was positively dreary with rain for much of the day and a cold wind blustery wind increasing in strength and decreasing in temperature as the day went on. As a group we had a few target birds especially the Scaup and Pale Bellied Brent Goose that had been seen the previous day. We were happy enough to stay in the first hide for a good while as the heaviest of the day's rain fell almost horizontally across the mere. A lone Ruff broke away from its mates and had a bit of a mooch round right in front of us, at times it was almost too close to focus on!
There was the usual selection of ducks including Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall, Shelduck, a few Tufted Ducks but we could only find three Pochards - how scarce have they become in recent years! - and one of our number struggled to find a Pintail despite there being plenty on show, was she even looking through the window??? We couldn't find the Scaup and desperately tried to string moulting Tufted Ducks into one. Waderwise there were more distant Ruffs, several, Snipe and an out of season Avocet. We couldn't find any Mediterranean Gulls mixed in with the Black Headed Gulls - again there's been one recently.
Moving on to the next hide the main excitement were a couple of Jackdaws hiding in plain sight among a flock of Coot searching for spilled grain from the previous evening's Whooper Swan feeding session.
At the hide with the Kingfisher perch, there were some very nice close views of Teal and Wigeon but not a Kingfisher in sight.
At the mis-named Kingfisher Hide there were no Kingfishers either but we did get good views of the Tree Sparrows on the feeders. It was in this hide that the chat turned to the recent Hawfinch invasion. AB recounted tales of seeing several in the Forest of Dean and others told of their positive and negative experiences of visits to Sizergh Castle. With mention of the Forest of Dean the conversation moved naturally on to Wild Boar and how hard they could be to find there despite being so big. We told of our frustration of seeing the extensive diggings in the gardens and around the swimming pool at our hotel in Sardinia but not actually seeing any of the animals and happened to mention they were like rotovators. AB agreed saying that he'd seen them push their whole face in to the ground. Not keeping up at the back - "Hey? I thought they fed up in the trees' 'What, Wild Boar up trees?' No silly; Hawfinches!!! Don't they feed up in the trees not pushing their beak into the ground - why would they need to do that at Sizergh there's always loads of food just scattered on the ground!!! - and hence Stealth rotovating by Hawfinches. Doh, come on AK do keep up at the back.
During this somewhat bizarre cross-purposed conversation an attempt was made to grill the large flock of Pink Footed Geese for the Pale Bellied Brent Goose but many of them were hidden in the long vegetation and anyway the total goose number was quite low with most of the huge flocks feeding offsite.
There is something about our in-hide conversations that tends to get everyone else to get up and go, lord only knows what they think of us, and we;re not particularly loud or rude or anything like that but it happens so now we've set ourselves a target of no more than five minutes to empty a hide...or the big guns (all hush hush) come out.
The final hide was a cold and winswept affair...don't open the windowwwwssss - too late...brrrrrr. Most of the Teal were seen from here but searching through them several times didn't give us any American Green Winged Teal, there's one most winters but it either hasn't turned up yet or not moulted through enough  to be able to be picked out from the 'normal' ones. At least two different Marsh Harriers cruised back and forth and AB picked up a brief and distant Peregrine tazzing through but star find went to IH and JG for picking up this Kingfisher on the side pool. A long way off but you just have to point the camera at their multi-colouredness don't you. It came and went a few times during the afternoon but this was the only time it settled in view.
The causeway between the two large meres had a dead Whooper Swan which was attracting the attention of a Buzzard and then a Marsh Harrier.
To our left a Pink Footed Goose carcass  was giving a feast to a couple of Carrion Crows until another, paler backed, Marsh Harrier decided to muscle in. We wondered if that in turn would be usurped when a juvenile Great Black Backed Gull showed an interest cruising back and forth overhead several times but eventually it moved on without come down.
Before too much excitement happened we called it a day and on leaving the hide those at the front of the party were lucky to get a brief glimpse of a Merlin before it disappeared behhind the tall trees at the edge of the reserve.
Best, or at least the most entertaining, sighting of the day were the family of Brown Rats at the feeding station. We watched them for ages but it was far too dark down there to even consider lifting the camera.
So two marvelous safaris in one week, some superb wildlife seen, some grotty pics taken and bizarre conversions had.
And no we still haven't seen one of the multitude of Hawfinches - has anyone else failed as well?
Where to next? We've a couple of shorter visits to Marton Mere (very confusing these reserves with almost identical names) to tell you about.
In the meantime let us know how quickly your conversations can empty a hide full of birders.